Historic venue’s licence application knocked back

Henry Cooper training with sparring partner Jim Fletcher at the Thomas A Becket in 1966

BY NEWS REPORTER shuz@slpmedia.co.uk A historic pub’s attempt to extend its licence until the early hours has been rejected.

The Thomas A Becket Pub, in the Old Kent Road – now called Rock Island – will have to continue to close at 1am after a ruling by a judge.

The pub had a first floor boxing gym used by Muhammed Ali, Sir Henry Cooper, Joe Frazier and Sugar Ray Leonard to spar before famous bouts.

The South London venue also played a role in Britain’s musical heritage: its second floor was used as a rehearsal space for David Bowie’s seminal 1972 album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.

The building had become a 500 capacity nightclub and its licence was revoked at summary review proceedings in 2015 because of disturbances to neighbours.

A new firm took over in February this year and renamed it Rock Island, with a restaurant licence, so alcohol could only be served as part of a meal. But management then lodged a series of Temporary Event Notices and marketed the pub as a party venue. This would have meant removing the restaurant description, opening until 2.30am at weekends and 1am midweek and increasing customer capacity by 50 per cent.

Southwark council refused this in June, even though Rock Island withdrew the increase in capacity at the hearing.

Town hall licensing and environmental officers, the police, public health and residents all told the hearing at Camberwell Green Magistrates’ Court of the effect the late licence would have on the area.

District Judge Karim Ezz decided the problems of the past, albeit under different operators, were relevant to the issues on appeal. Previous years had showed the premises was in a noise-sensitive location and had the potential to disturb residents, unless very strictly controlled.

Rock Island was in breach of its licence five times in the first five months of its operation, which did not help its case.

The district judge accepted the council had to balance the commercial interests of the pub and not disturbing residents in the early hours.

The court also decided it could not make a decision on lifting the restaurant licence, because this had been withdrawn at committee stage.

The operator and license holder, Paul Anthony Scarborough, from Hackney, was ordered to pay £10,000 towards the council’s court costs.

Cllr Barrie Hargrove, Cabinet Member for Communities, Leisure and Safety, said: “I am disappointed that our efforts to return this famous old building to proper use have once again been derailed.

“However, the council has been unequivocal about its opposition to the building’s use as a late night party venue. We work hard to maintain a fair balance between ensuring such premises are compliant with their licences, while supporting local businesses and a vibrant night time economy.

“I am glad that our concerns for our residents were represented by the district judge in this case.”

Rock Island supervisor Claire Steele said: “We were very upset about the decision.

“We had had no problems in relation to crime, nuisance or disorder. We feel we have proved ourselves – and that we were not the pub we used to be.

“We are a restaurant, not a nightclub.

“With the current hours, we have to rush people out of the door at midnight during the week – which is hard with large parties, where it can take a long time to ensure all their food arrives at the same time.

“Often diners do not turn up until 10pm too.

“There are a few other restaurants licensed until 3am, so we thought 2am might be possible.

“And the judge has seen that our tables and chairs are fixed, so it is not possible to turn it into a nightclub.”

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